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Martin Lewis vs. Facebook – what’s it all about?

Facebook on Tablet

Martin Lewis vs. Facebook – what’s it all about?

Few people come across as knowing what they’re talking about as much as Martin Lewis does. The founder of MoneySavingExpert.com is known for his advice on matters like energy bills, bank charges, student finance and any other money matters where he feels people are being short-changed. Reported to have a net worth of $100m (£71.7m), he was awarded an OBE in 2014 for his consumer rights and charity work.

So when the financial guru genuinely feels he has a case against the currently much maligned social media site Facebook, it’s not surprising that we all sit up and take notice. Yesterday, Lewis announced he would lodge a case against Facebook, which he accuses of damaging his reputation.

Why does Lewis have a problem with Facebook?

Lewis has become very much the face of thrift and financial astuteness, particularly in the UK, so it’s not surprising that everybody wants to be the product or service he recommends. Given the nature of the internet and social media, it’s also perhaps not surprising that some social media pages do this without his authority.

MoneySavingExpert.com features a page all about bogus adverts that use pictures of Lewis to promote services. It claims that some social media users have lost considerable amounts of money by backing or investing in products solely because they were fooled into thinking Lewis was endorsing them.

Justifiably, Lewis is unhappy that his brand is being damaged by fake adverts associating him with shoddy products. He stresses that while he and MoneySavingExpert.com do mention specific products, neither he nor his company endorse them with their name or logo, so anything seen on social media with his face next to it will be fake.

What can Facebook do about it?

Facebook points out that it removes misleading ads when they are reported, but Lewis argues this is not good enough. Noting Facebook’s drive towards facial recognition, he suggests that the site should be able to recognise his likeness, especially since he has told Facebook that he does not appear in adverts.

Lewis adds that although he reports ads, he often finds that a new, very similar one crops up immediately after, because the site treats each ad as a new entity even if it is almost identical.

Does Lewis have a case?

The money maestro has had some success challenging Facebook ads featuring pictures of him in the past, with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upholding complaints he made against PPI services ads last year. Even though the ads stated that they were not recommended by Lewis and were using freely available images, the ASA ruled that the use of the images and the quotes they came with could mislead people into thinking Lewis was endorsing the service.

The question now is to what extent Facebook is responsible for the content posted on it, and what efforts it is making to stop misleading ads appearing. This is where Lewis may need to present evidence of how hard he has tried to stop the ads permanently, and when and how he has contacted Facebook to point out that he does not appear in any ads.

If successful, it will cause further headaches for Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was recently quizzed by Congress on privacy matters and may now need to find a way to increase the site’s vigilance on ads and misleading advice.

John Murray

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